Never has there been a more important time to try and understand the future of leisure and corporate travel. In our field, the meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions (MICE) industry was one of the initial types of tourism that have been heavily affected by the worldwide spread of COVID-19 and it may take time to return fully before we see the return of fun team building activities like volleyball. Or can that be a social distance sport if you remain in a two-metre square? Many questions have been raised and I expect more will follow. Which countries are you able to visit without quarantining? How often is a Covid-19 test needed during an event and will a Covid-19 Passport be in the answer and how ethical is this? Should event organisers and corporate event companies have new crisis management policies in place, be more transparent, and importantly have a more rigorous process in selecting DMC suppliers and their global representatives who are fully insured with evidence provided? I discuss what have we learned and why a destination management company is needed more than ever when planning a corporate event in order to win back travel confidence for meetings and incentive travel trips. For nearly 15 years, Uniqueworld has been licensed to passionately supply the events industry with trusted local destination management companies. Here is our outlook on how DMCs can save your organisation money, time and peace of mind when you’re looking to find a destination to operate an event in.
Destination management companies (DMCs) and event management companies have been especially vulnerable to the high number of postponements and cancellations, but like many companies, we’ve been able to adapt and survive during the pandemic. With COVID-19 bringing to a stop almost all plans to meet face to face, corporate event management companies were forced to cut staff, give up office space and in the worst scenarios, cease operations altogether. Conference event organisers depend on group business as their main source of revenue, and unlike hotels, do not have a leisure aspect to their business.
However, in spite of the negative impact, there is sufficient evidence proving that DMCs are the go-to for event organising. Even with the sudden shift from in-person meetings to virtual and hybrid meetings, DMCs and corporate event planning companies remain reliable in these times.
So what are some of the lessons DMCs learned from the COVID-19 period?
First, MICE events have had to shift ground and take place online. This has reduced the need for companies that specialise in the tourism sector. This has been a source of worry to industries that specialise in travel and tourism. As such, as a conference event organizer, you may have to resort to hosting and attending these events online. The Virtual industry has boomed, and some dmcs have adapted this by building their hybrid studios and for event planning companies already having studio space, it’s been a quick fix.
Secondly, companies in every sector will be keen on finding ways to cut costs in the near future, as they try to survive the economic impact brought by COVID-19. One of the areas that may see a cut in budget is business travel with most companies considering it a costly expense. And with the rise of teleconferencing software such as Google Meet, Teams and Zoom, most have been able to reduce this expense.
Third, even though meeting and conference tourism may take time to recover, trade fairs and exhibitions are much suited to face-to-face interactions because attendees are motivated by networking, evaluating and experiencing services and products in person. The future isn’t all bleak on mass gatherings, though it is unclear when it may be safe to hold these events once more. In the UK though, the roadmap for reopening businesses and venues looks positive to be this summer!
What will be the big challenge to the recovery of the MICE industry by DMCs?
It is unclear when the New Normal without COVID-19 will begin. Even with the discovery of a reliable vaccine, it may take more than a year before widespread vaccination is achieved and confidence in mass travel resumes. As such, most companies are at a consensus that the virus is here to stay for a while and if you are to stay afloat, the event planning industry has needed to figure out how to carry on business amidst the virus. There are several ways that you, with a DMC, can speed up the recovery of the MICE industry.
One, for the larger scale events, you can consider crowd monitoring solutions, air filtration systems for ventilation in venues, electrostatic sprayers for disinfecting surfaces in function rooms among other safety measures for venues.
Two, venue offers will have to include in-person, virtual or hybrid options with flexible rooms and additional technology infrastructure.
Three, virtual tours will be the norm for venues. And finally, contactless operations past check-in will be custom.
The Future of Travel Incentives for Employees
The 2020 job market witnessed a shift caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic, some companies offered the ability to work remotely as a perk. However, this became the norm for most businesses. It is estimated that by 2025, 70 percent will be working from home at least 5 days a month.
Even as companies gear towards working remotely, physical offices are not going to disappear in the future thus physical interaction among employees will continue.
On business travel, a survey by Globetrender unearthed interesting statistics about the future of business travel. 76 percent of the survey respondents agreed that face-to-face interactions with clients are still preferable to holding remote sales pitching and meetings. 60 percent agreed that the majority of decisions and deals cannot be carried out virtually. This goes to show that business travel isn’t doomed. So how can incentive travel companies restructure in the New Normal?
Following the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on small businesses and communities, incentive travel companies can work with these communities or businesses to put money in their pockets and show solidarity with suppliers and customers. This means that incentive travel will have a double impact, on the attendees, and on those who need the business. Companies more than ever are going to need sales, and those salespeople are going to need to be motivated. Incentive travel is employees’ number 1 choice. In addition to motivating their employees, businesses will leverage incentive travel to thank all the loyal customers that stood with them during the pandemic.
Future Meetings: Are Virtual and Hybrid Meetings Here to Stay?
Before COVID-19, most meetings occurred in-person, over the phone, and there was no hesitation to jump on a plane to hold crucial face-to-face meetings in London, Tokyo or New York. However, the pandemic brought a shift from in-person meetings to online, and this brought the realisation that virtual tools work just as well.
With the anticipation of mass vaccinations, companies are wondering on what kind of meetings, workshops and conferences to plan in this upcoming year: in person or virtual?
Most companies will continue holding virtual meetings as they plan to save money. Companies will be looking to cut on time and resources spent on travelling to meetings, by assembling participants online, without having to leave their living rooms.
Virtual meetings will not be exclusive to Zoom calls. Another emerging trend is hybrid meetings and conferences. These events will take place face-to-face in one place, with keynote speakers being present, as well as participants who are able to come. At the same time, the event will be broadcasted virtually to satellite locations, thus opening up broader participation. I predict Amazon to grow in this field and Microsoft Teams to dominate it.., not forgetting Cisco has been doing video conferencing since 1995 with Webex.
How does this translate to DMCs and Corporate Event Planning Companies?
Corporate event planning companies have reported that organizing virtual conferences helps save over 60 percent of their budget as they cut on costs on equipment, venues and catering. At the same time, they broaden their audience to those with the desire to attend, but cannot travel to the location or don’t have the time.
Here are some tips our DMCs provide to conference event organizers and corporate event planning companies on organising hybrid conferences:
Aim to create value for in-person and virtual attendees. The virtual attendees will require to be engaged just as much as the face-to-face attendees. Whether a participant attends live, digitally or both, interaction should be considered.
Tailor the virtual portion to look like the in-person event. For instance, create breakout, chat sessions or even coffee breaks for all the attendees. You can pre-record them for the virtual attendees while holding live ones for the physically attending. Ensure you formulate fun and relaxing activities for both groups.
Leverage technology to reap the most benefits. One, you can let attendees build their event schedule through a customised dashboard. The registration payments can be processed online. Use a dashboard to show the upcoming sessions, and even allow access to past events.
The New Role of DMCs on Conferences’ Attendees Safety
With renewed hope from mass vaccinations, most countries will lift their bans on travel and ease other restrictions. This will see corporate organisations slowly streaming to conferences and meetings. However, they will be looking to DMCs to play newer roles in the post-COVID-19 world.
DMCs and conference event organisers in the past have ensured the safety of all visiting groups. This will now extend to the particular health concerns in relation to COVID-19. Since every destination, venue and hotel has its own particular safety measures in place, you will be charged with devising an overall strategy to ensure every attendee is safe. These measures include:
One of the challenges that you’ll face is figuring out how to bring a large number of guests together, while observing social distancing. It will also be a concern for the other aspects of the event including guest processing and registration.
The pandemic has seen people become aware of health and safety issues so it’s best that you meet the expectations of the guests. One, you need to deploy more security when holding conferences and events. When attendees notice these arrangements, they develop less concerns. Some of the equipment that you need to invest in include thermal scanners to detect raised temperature, UV-C purifiers to purify the air, digital signage, geofencing and GPS tracking to bring about social distancing and sanitization stations.
Reduction of Business Travel and its Impact
As we know, travel bans in countries all over the world brought business travel to a halt due to the pandemic. Even as governments slowly ease restrictions, the die is cast with companies making permanent changes towards business and events trips.
According to a Fortune Magazine survey, more than half of the respondents among Fortune 500 chief executives indicated that trips would not resume to pre-COVID levels. This is because the pandemic caused most companies to place the health and safety of their employees center stage. This in turn affected every aspect of corporate life, business travel included.
International travel may take longer to bounce back following complex government regulations, high risk of ever-changing policies and mandatory quarantines.
At the moment, this means that airports are less crowded. However, this is not good news for the numerous brands such as lifestyle, food and beverages, electronics and others that rely on retailing at airports.
As for flyers, airports that are less crowded still won’t make flying pleasurable, as the health checks may be included to check-in routines, increasing the wait in airports.
This also means that luxury hotels may become cheaper. With demand for accommodation remaining sluggish for a while, the luxury sector may result in reduced tariffs? If this is the case, this where you can benefit from a local dmc’s buying power to achieve you the best group rate at a luxury hotel.
The Future of Corporate Travel
Business travel will resume, starting with domestic and regional business travel before international travel does. However, this will first happen through rental or personal vehicles until companies are comfortable with sending their employees via airplanes.
Business travel will be greatly inspired by in-person sales and client meetings. Sales-focused organisations have expressed the need to go back to face-to-face meetings, fully aware that this will require the involved parties to be comfortable with the required travel.
Furthermore, companies will be under pressure to match their competitors. Once peers resume traveling for pitches and sales meetings, companies will be under pressure to resume travel to also win business among their key customers.
Travel managers in countries where outbreaks have stabilised have reported a slight increase in domestic travel. However, it’s still nowhere near a full return to pre-COVID times.
How DMCs, Travel Companies and Global Destination Management Companies Can Win Traveller Confidence
Safety is the greatest concern of consumers as they figure out the mandates put in place to speed up the recovery period before travel can resume fully. With that said, here are some of the concerns of the consumers and ways you can help meet them.
One, consumers seek trusted sources such as health reports and safety guidelines set by the NHS and WHO. With this in mind, you should leverage each touchpoint with the consumers to reassure them by granting them control of their environment. For instance, driving is the preferred mode of travel. You should employ a data-driven marketing approach to target the customers that are likely to seek your services in the travel radius on a car. You can even give sanitised parking services to reassure the consumer during their time with you.
Two, consumers have portrayed a desire to control their surroundings. For instance, they are willing to pay more for their safety: spend more to ensure physical distancing in their flight, especially families with children and the elderly. For this reason, grant your consumer some control of their surrounding. As most prefer driving to flying, provide sanitised parking services to reassure them.
Three, consumers want to see that there are safety protocols laid down. Consumers are placing their confidence in brands that prioritise safety and cleanliness. Destination management companies are aware they are scouring through reviews for evidence of employees donning personal protective equipment (PPE) and proof of this from third-party reviews gives them a sense of security.
As such, constantly communicate with the consumer about safety and equip your workers with PPE. Furthermore, outfit the cleaning crew mandated with COVID-19- related sanitisation procedures with unique uniforms that draw light to them as such. Also communicate regularly with the consumers about the safety policies, while identifying the trusted sources that are guiding the policies.
Future Outlook: The Silver Lining Among DMCs, Incentive Travel Companies and Conference Event Organizers
Destination Management Companies
The playing field for destination management companies, group travel companies and event management companies was changed drastically by the pandemic. However, many firms have weathered the storm and emerged stronger than ever before. Here’s how the future may look for you if you are in these industries.
One, you will have to expand your expertise – congratulate yourself, we do not do this enough! When businesses are affected like in 2020, firms evolve and devise new ways to provide services to their clients. During this period, companies expanded and included nontraditional offerings to remain afloat. Among the new offerings was hybrid events.
As both virtual and in-person elements are not making an exit, and possibly here for the long-term, it will be worthwhile for you to learn how to fuse this to your offerings, for your company’s advantage.
Two, even if virtual components are likely to hoard a greater role in future events, still, many organisations are planning in-person gatherings in the near future. Now, since many planners are not in a position to travel to the site for inspections, you can leverage your on-the-ground expertise to help clients become aware of the options available in the destination.
Incentive Travel Companies
The pandemic has had devastating effects on the global incentive travel industry, as business activities went down as much as 80 percent in 2020. However, only a small minority of industry players reported ceasing operations and shutting their businesses. Incentive travel companies were able to leverage government supports and explore new revenue streams.
The near future will see these companies result in new priorities that reflect the corporate change brought about by the pandemic. “Bucket list” or luxury experiences have grown in popularity taking the top ranking in the design of future programs. These are followed by “cultural experiences.” This shows that the future of travel is the joy of discovery.
Another list of inclusions in post-pandemic travel experiences is corporate social responsibility or CSR. The pandemic has strengthened our inclination to be responsible travelers, thus having a positive impact in the destinations we visit.
Finally, we have staycations. As people are looking for ways to get back to normal life, they are resulting in staycations. The idea of spending some time in a comfortable and safe ‘home’ without the fear of contracting the virus is appealing to many. Staycations are a popular trend because they offer an easy option to taking a break without having to travel far.
Why are they popular?
One, staycations reduce the stress that comes with organising a trip – from selecting accommodation to packing multiple suitcases of clothes that you’ll probably not use.
Two, it frees you to take part in activities that a busy schedule doesn’t allow you to. These activities include visiting museums, taking advantage of the weather to play some games, etc.
Three, staycations let you discover the beauty of a region or city, which might not be noticeable in our day-to-day lives.
Finally, staycations are a great way to promote the local economy. By taking time to visit local markets, visit farms for fresh produce or even spending in an amazing hotel, you help put money into local businesses.
In conclusion, the MICE industry may have been crippled by the pandemic, but the future looks promising. Newer avenues such as virtual and hybrid meetings have opened up which actually cut costs compared to in-person events. And with technological innovations, we can look forward to trends that will work in everyone’s favour. If companies are able to reach more internally and to their consumers, then businesses will grow, resulting in better business and better budgets – allowing for better service quality from your preferred DMC supplier!